LONG overdue account of El Camino Del Diablo 2/27-3/2 2014


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It is late 2012, a co-worker and I are discussing our next day trip to the deserts around Tucson, Az. After a few minutes he brings up a trail that would take planning, time, and desire to complete; El Camino Del Diablo. After a brief description of the trail we decide this trip needs to go on the list for full planning. As 2012 turned to 2013, not much else was discussed with regards to planning this run. Eventually we bring it up again in the summer of 2013 and set a date window in spring 2014. Eventually this would lead to the dates of 2/27-3/2 2014. It was starting to come together now. We had three vehicles signed up and were looking for a fourth. Around October I posted in the regular places such as ExPo and my alma mater offroad club looking for a fourth vehicle to join the group. The response seemed great but no one jumped into the commitment.
Over the next couple months I took on the responsibility of determining permit requirements, route planning, and other various items that required attention. I spent hours on Google Earth mapping and planning the route, building a file for all to use. Late January I am informed by one of the two original parties that they were dropping out, shortly followed by the other. At this point I had myself, and a couple of likely candidates from ExPo that I had never met. To say things were seemingly falling apart was an understatement. I kept my spirits up and was determined not to let anything short of having to go alone stop me from fulfilling this trip.

Meeting New Friends
With two thirds of the original crew out for the trip, I focused on finding anyone to take their place as I wouldn’t go this alone. I had a 95% commitment from Gunnermoose (Eric) and another interested Party VDBAZFJ (Aaron). I was nervous about it all working out and the fact that I had never met any of these guys previously. I wasn’t about to let that keep me from having a good time. With Eric and Aaron’s commitment I continued the discussion for planning purposes. About three weeks prior to departure, along comes the great jimbolio (Jim) saying he is in and has already requested the PTO. His commitment would round out the group. All that was left was to finalize the details and set out on our journey.
8:00AM at the QT off of I-10 and Cortaro Farms road, this was the meeting place for Aaron, Jim, and myself. From there we would leave and catch up with Eric along I-8 towards Yuma. I arrived early, as usual for me and filled up my tank, grabbed some ice, and maybe a pink frosted donut, and await the arrival of the other two. It wasn’t long until I saw a loaded FJ pulling a well-equipped M416 trailer turn off the frontage and towards the gas station. Aaron had arrived. We quickly introduced ourselves and proclaimed our excitement for what was about to ensue. After Aaron had fueled up we parked and watched for Jim to arrive.
A short while passed and eventually we saw a yellow FJ round the corner and pull in. Jim had arrived. After brief introductions we learned that Jim was having electrical issues and was debating if he should proceed with the trip. After an hour or so of diagnostics and tinkering, we had discovered the issue and convinced Jim to push forward. Not to pick on Jim, but the next few hours would continue in this trend and require further encouragement from the crew to keep moving forward. The three of us set off towards Yuma and our meet up with the fourth and final member of our party. So far we were only an hour and a half late, with plenty of time to make it to our first camp at the Tinajas Altas Tanks.
The next few hours of freeway driving were easy and uneventful. West of Gila Bend we made contact with Eric and determined a rendezvous point just before the long climb over the mountains to the east of Yuma. As we pulled in I saw yet another FJ, white this time, waiting for us. After quick introductions, tank draining, and wildflower picture taking we set forth towards Yuma and the Marine Corps Air Station.
Chasing the Sun
It was well after mid day by the time we pulled into the jam packed parking lot at the Yuma Marine Corps Air Station visitor center. I had previously obtained my permit, but the others needed to get theirs and attend to other business at the base. I proceeded to park across the street and gas up one last time before leaving pavement. Not too long after the other joined me to fill up their rigs. On my way over to Jim I noticed fluid near his driver front tire, upon closer inspection, the inside of his wheel was wet with brake fluid. Further investigation determined that the fitting from the line into the caliper was loose. A quick repair and check of the level and all was good. Now that our vehicles were full, our bellies demanded the same. We downed a quick gut bomb and returned to the pavement once again.
We had to back track just a bit to get to the Fortuna area on the eastern edge of Yuma. We would be dropping down near the border along the Tinajas mountain range. The eastern end of the ECDD in this area is also a popular recreation area for day use. In the staging area we observed numerous ATV’s and buggies of all sorts. It was here we also had a discussion regarding the need to air down. Some were for and some against. I chose to air down as it would help cut down on the harshness of rocky road travel. This was also the time to call our group into the Barry M Goldwater range.
1. From left to right: Jim, Aaron, Klayton, Eric at the staging area

2. The northen end of the Tinajas Range

3. Looking to the south, and towards Fortuna Mine.

It was only a couple miles since leaving pavement that Jim’s voice came over the radio. He was hearing a loud clunking noise coming from something on his vehicle. Eric, following jim in the tail position saw the culprit, a blown out shock mount. The top mount of the rear passenger shock had failed. Apparently this wasn’t the first time either as Jim had spare parts at the ready. After about an hour of trail side repair by master shadetree mechanic Eric, we were once again underway. We had a lot of distance to cover and it was now getting late. Between us and our camp destination for the night was the Fortuna mine site that required exploration, and a pass through the Tinajas Altas.

4. Fortuna Mine

5. More Fortuna Mine

6. The Group at Fortuna

The Fortuna Mine is an expansive site that one should really spend a few hours at. Jim took pictures of many of the information plaques at the site that reference daily life and the history of the town and mill. Hopefully he will share some of them here. As it was already late, and we had many more miles to go, we quickly got back in the vehicles and continued south. After a turning in circles a couple of times due to lack of resolution on my GPS tracker, we were headed down through a winding trail that would re-connect us with the main route of the ECDD.

7. Navigation Aids

Once we hit the main drag of the ECDD we were able to press the skinny pedal a bit more and try to make up for lost time. Let me just say that even though this is a hot and dry desert, the beauty of the area is astonishing, requiring frequent stops to capture the beauty. Eventually we came to our first aid beacon. For those that are not familiar with the area, it is extremely remote and within a couple miles of the border with Mexico. As such it is a hotbed for illegal smugglers and immigrants risking their lives. The Border Patrol has set up numerous aid beacons, where you can simply press a button and await rescue. We stopped at the aid beacon for a quick group shot.

8. Stunning desert beauty abounds

9. Aid Beacon group shot

Up ahead we would decide on one of three possible routes to get us from the west side to the east side of the Tinajas were our camp was waiting. We decided on the northern most route. The road started snaking its way through the valleys of the Tinajas and down into washes. Each turn revealed more and more magnificent landscapes. The road also started getting a bit rougher at this point. The two of us with trailers were wondering how they would hold up to the abuse, sharp turns, and steep angles that comprised this rocky pass. To add interest to the journey, the sun was now setting, providing for stunning visuals, but adding to the urgency to move on. After some time of climbing higher into the mountains we finally began to descent into the valley below. The mountains opened up and revealed a level dirt superhighway once again. It wouldn’t be long before we reached our camp for the night at the Tinajas Altas Tanks. As we set up camp and Aaron prepared the night’s dinner the vastness of the area began to really set in. This is the middle of nowhere. Aaron prepared us a delicious meal of carne asada, beans, and the entire accoutrements one could hope for. We sat around a camp fire and made bets on when the first Border Patrol vehicle would be stopping by, but we would not see one until the next day. Eventually we broke and went to sleep; it had been a long first day, but an exciting one for sure.

10. Sunset in the Tinajas

11. The valley ahead

12. Reaching camp


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Dawn of a New Day
Sunrise in the desert is a magical time. The sun greeted us on day two in spectacular format, bathing the Tinajas Altas tanks in a rich glow that revealed the true oasis in the desert that so many migrants would die attempting to reach. Each of us cooked and ate our breakfast in awe of the sight before us. Shortly after breakfast we went on a short hike to the tanks. Along the way we saw thousands of wild plants in bloom, creating a gorgeous array of color against the pale background of the Tinajas. We reached the lowest of the tanks and discovered there was indeed quite a bit of water, not something you would willingly drink unless near death, but water nonetheless.
Jim's travelling companion, Mr. Spock took interest in a lizard on the rear face of the tank and in his excitement decided to take a bath. After nearly falling in himself, Jim successfully pulled Mr Spock from the depths. Everyone was OK and we all had a good chuckle. Eric decided to climb up to the next tank. He found a route and quickly made his way to it. Once up there he confirmed there was water in this tank as well. We could barely make him out from our lower position. I cannot imagine the desperation people must have felt as they attempted to climb the tanks after exhaustion and near death. It is a hallowing place and you can really sense the history.

13. Day two sunrise

14. Tinajas Altas Tanks

15. Wildflowers abound

16. The lowest tank (doggie bath)

17. Looking east from the lower tank

After breaking down camp we started our leisurely pace towards the east. We didn't have much distance to cover and were able to slow down and absorb the scenery. For the next few miles we noted that many of the side roads that extend from the main ECDD route are marked and not open to the general public. Unfortunately this means you can no longer legally drive right up to the border along this route. Side road after side road marked as closed was a bit depressing.
Eventually our dirt superhighway led us to the boundary of the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge (CPNWR). We stopped to take a rest, take pictures, and read the information signs. After the obligatory group shots with the entry signage we once again set out at a leisurely pace, our destination would be Tule Well. Finally, after a solid 20+ hours on the trail we finally came across our first Border Patrol truck. A friendly wave was all the exchange we had as we continued down the road.
18. The group, crossing into CPNWR

19. The Entry sign on the western end of CPNWR

20. More color in the desert

“Tu madre no vive aqui! Clean up!”
We reached Tule Well around midday. It is an unassuming site consisting of a small building, a tank and windmill, some picnic tables, and high on a hill, the Boy Scout Memorial. We gathered around a picnic table, under what little shade a scraggly mesquite tree provided and ate a basic lunch. After nourishing ourselves with a generous helping of lunchmeat and chips, we wandered over to the small shack at the site. Inside there were minimal furnishings and the service was atrocious. I promptly gave a poor rating on TripAdvisor. While inside we signed the log book and noted the colorful writings on the walls. We also took note of one way to hang things from a beam ceiling, simply pound a few railroad spikes into the beams.
We closed the shack back up and followed a worn, but faint path up to the prominent Boy Scout memorial. Jim will hopefully add more history of this landmark in the comments below. It was very interesting to see how far back some of the markers went, back to the 1930's, possible older. We made our way back down to Tule well and checked out the camping options at the location. We had been getting spotty cell service the previous day and had heard of an impending super storm that was pounding southern California and headed our way. This was low ground next to s small stream bed, hardly a good choice with potential flash floods occurring during the night. After weighing our options we decided to make the out and back run to Christmas Pass and camp there.

21. Tule Well

22. The shack at Tule

23. Spanish for “your mother doesn't live here” & Clean up!

24. Boy Scout memorial at Tule Well

25. Looking down at Tule from the Boy Scout memorial


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Christmas in February?
The drive up to Christmas pass was one of the more scenic of the route, so much so that I forgot to take a plethora of pictures. Along the way we noticed large piles of rocks along the trail, we all took our guess as to what their original purpose was, my guess was cairns to mark the trail in the days before maps and GPS. About half way to camp we came across some debris on the side of the road. At one point there was a structure important enough to have a flag circle out front. Eric noted on his map that in the hills above the site there was a marked tank. We decided to take a short hike to see what we could find. Eventually the path we were following began to fade and eventually ended. With no tank in sight we turned back around and returned to the vehicles.
The skies to the west were beginning to cloud up as we rounded the last corner into Christmas Pass. The view laid out before us was stunning. Wide open valley with mountains in the distance. It was still early in the afternoon, but we could all tell what each other were thinking, this was our camp for the night. We quickly set up camp and Eric began to prepare an awesome stew for dinner. Off in the distance we could hear the rumble of a jet that must have been doing maneuvers over the BMGR. We would soon get our wish as the jet began to approach us and circled above us to the southeast. It quickly flew out of sight to the northwest but would be returning, for we had been spotted. The jet came in low to the ground head on to our position against a small rocky outcropping. As it got to about half a mile out it sharply turned vertical, inverted and dove on our position. I believe we were an unofficial practice target and it was awesome.
After re-locating and shoring up the fire ring at camp we had a nice sized campfire setting the mood for our dinner. A wonderful stew prepared by chef Eric. One thing about this location the portion sizes were as expansive as the view. Around the campfire we discussed the typical topics that four guys on an epic adventure would discuss. Eventually the conversation turned to the impending weather. The skies were cloudy but not terribly threatening at this time. We were all convinced we would be either hit hard during the night or early in the morning. We prepared our camp for such events, or at least three of us did. Once again Jim would suffer from a slight malfunction of equipment. During the night the rains did not come, but the wind did. I cannot recall what time, but at some point a gust of wind picked Jim's awning up and flopped it over his FJ. A little bit of late night scrambling and quick repairs and we were all back to sleep.

26. Camp at Christmas Pass

27. Expansive Views

28. Eric Starting his stew

29. This is living


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The Start of the End
We awoke to a beautiful and calm overcast sky. Only a slight dribble had fallen on us overnight. Spirits were high as Jim prepared the ultimate dutch oven breakfast. Imagine if you will a full loaf of sourdough, cubed in the bottom of a dutch oven. Over that you add a pound of cooked bacon, not enough? How about a pound of delicious sausage, you want more? OK, pour over that a pound of melted butter and a full dozen eggs, scrambled. Top it off with a full pound of cheddar cheese and cook a while. What you end up with is one of the best, albeit heavy, breakfasts you can have in the backcountry. Keep in mind that there are only four of us. We finished off every last bite of that meal, and as fate was planning, this was a good thing.
The morning conversation, between groans and other less pleasant sounds, revolved around weather once again. We had expected heavy rains and were delighted to see the start of beautiful weather. We packed up camp and made our way back to Tule well. This would be one of our longer travel days, and little did we know, especially Jim and Eric, that it would be a VERY long day.
On the way back to Tule we stopped to take a short hike over to an interesting outcropping of rocks that contained a few caves. We parked and took advantage of the overcast skies and ascended the mountain to the overhang. We traversed along the face of the cliff, underneath the overhang until we could go no further. Eric and I climbed a bit higher while Aaron and Jim stayed on lower ground. About this time, breakfast was working on Jim's GI tract and he had to take care of business. This would prove to be the start of the decline of our journey.
We quickly made our way back to Tule well and with exception of a short stop at the memorial for a photo op were pushing forward towards Papago Well. We had a couple options for camp that night and were not sure of where we would end up, so we moved with purpose towards Papgo to ensure we had enough time to push to Bate's Wells if needed. Along the route we were once again taken back by the expansive beauty of the desert. The clouds were burning off and the air was clean and crisp.
Along the way we would travel through a varying landscape. Not too far into the day we had to pull aside to let a Kia with New York plates pass us. Inside a very unique looking couple inquired about the road ahead. We were impressed it had made it this far and gave them a general road condition for the direction we had already come. We truly hope they made it out before the day ended. Soon we dropped into a section of the ECDD that runs along the bottom of a river channel. Earth sits about 4-5 feet above the road surface and we were glad it hadn't rained the night before. Shortly after this section we reached the Pinacate, an ancient lava flow. The rocky terrain slowed our pace down, but sprits remained high and soon we were passed the lava field. Soon after the lava we hit the mood dust that is well known by ECDD travelers. It was so fine that by the time we emerged on the other side, all of our vehicles were the same pale earth color. We stopped for a quick break and to observe Highway 2 in Mexico.
We continued along through varying scenery and as we crested a small hill with a large Border Patrol station in sight, Eric noted a grave marked on his map. We stopped and there, right off the main road was a marked grave. Apparently, Dave O'Neils drowned out here and is now a popular stop along the ECDD. Trinkets covered the stones of his grave. We paid our respects and continued on. We reached Papgo Well and were rather unimpressed. It is an open flat area where the winds were howling. We decided we would push on to Bates Well and would camp there for the night.
Just to the west of the Boundary line for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is another rather large forward operating base for the US Border Patrol. We stopped here to take a quick break, some pictures and attempt to pay our usage fee for the monument.

30. Dutch oven breakfast

31. An interesting outcropping

32. Lets climb up and explore

33. Mr. Spock checking things out

34. Overcast desert

35. Eric Climbing (off screen to the right is “the bush”)

36. Along the route towards Papago Well

37. Start of the mini canyon

38. Glad it didn't rain

39. The Pinacate

40. Grave site along the road

41. Papgo Well

42. Close up of the aid beacon signage

The Discovery
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, one place I had not done my homework. I was informed by one of the members of our party that this area had a day use fee associated with it. I personally had not been expecting to need cash on this trip, but no worries, one of the guys would cover the $10 fee. As we all stretched out legs and reached for our wallets Jim noticed something missing. The wallet that would typically reside in his back pocket was not there. We all thought, no worry, it's probably somewhere in the truck or yesterdays dirty clothes. Sadly this would not be the case. After searching every nook and cranny in Jim's truck we came up short. Jim recalled his two calls of nature that morning, one by our camp at Christmas Pass and one by the cliffs we explored. Jim wanted to go back and look for the wallet, while the rest of us said to cut his losses and move on. In the end Jim and Eric decided they would go back for the wallet while Aaron and myself, having trailers, would push on the Bates Well and set up camp. Having decent 2M radios we would monitor for their return.
Each of us had brought some extra fuel, but not that much. We were already running low by this time and Jim and Eric would be doing another estimated 100 miles of off-road driving. We divvied up the fuel we had to Eric and Jim and Jim pulled onto the ECDD, headed west towards Christmas Pass. We had calculated a rough estimate of 7-8pm that we would see them again, but in reality it wouldn't be until the next morning. As Jim and Eric drove off into the sunset Aaron and I gathered ourselves and continued on to Bate's Wells.
By this time it was already getting late and the ominous clouds moving in were shielding the sun. The weather was one thing that currently was not on our minds. Aaron and I made it swiftly to Bate's and realized there are no spots for camping. I would later discover there are only two authorized campsites in Organ Pipe and neither was near ECDD. As we explored the rather impressive site at Bate's the skies began to hint at what would come over the next 8 hours. With drips beginning to fall Aaron and I headed back out towards Ajo in search of a spot to camp. After a short while we decided there wasn't anything decent showing itself, and we would turn around to investigate a small side road we had passed on the way to Bate's well. We quickly found the road and went in. This was a very tight and winding little path that revealed no decent campsites. At the end I dropped into a wash and had to use the skinny pedal to keep from sinking in and getting stuck. I did not want to add winching to the day's list of events. Luckily I was able to keep it afloat and we made our way back to the ECDD and back towards Ajo.
43. Organ Pipe

44. Splitting up

45. Bate's Well

46. Clouds rolling in

47. Rains a comin

48. Sprinkles on steel

A night to forget
After quite a few more miles we turned off on a small side road I saw on the GPS map. This road led us back to a small open pit mine and no useable campsites. On the way out to the main route we stopped at a relative open flat spot, it was the best option we had seen in some time and weather as moving in. Aaron quickly made us a couple of brats and we sat huddled against our vehicles to shield from the wind. A short discussion followed and we realized there was no way we were going to set up camp here, not with the winds and not with the impending rain. We decided we would wait in our vehicles, along the ECDD and attempt to make radio contact when the time came, then head into Ajo that night after Jim and Eric re-joined us.
The sun had now set and the rains were upon us. We were communicating over the HAMs and I was going insane watching a blinking blue light off in the distance, another damn rescue beacon. Around 8pm we started calling out on our frequency, but received no response back. We tried this for a while longer before realizing they may be closed in by the weather and not able to continue. We made a very difficult decision to drive the 12 or so miles into Ajo and re-evaluate.
We ended up at Pizza Hut, on a rainy Saturday night in Ajo. We lucked out and the kitchen hadn't closed. Aaron and I ordered a pizza to split and some drinks, keeping a portable HAM near us at all times. Also visiting the restaurant was a Border Patrol Agent. We gave him the names and vehicle makes of Eric and Jim and out numbers. He was heading back out to one of the forward bases along the ECDD and would ask if they had been spotted recently. We would later hear back that they were spotted earlier, on their way to Tule and were in good spirits, but nothing since. We had no idea where they were at this point.
Aaron and I gassed up our vehicles and made the decision to head back out, in the rain and dark to meet up with Eric and Jim wherever they were. We turned back off the pavement and back onto the ECDD. By this time the road was soft and visibility was poor. The rain was coming down hard. The further we pressed on the more intense the situation became. I was now in 4hi for the first time on the trip and the jeep was still slipping and sliding. We encountered numerous low spots in the road that were small rivers, the glare of our headlights afforded no clue to the depth, but we forged ahead anyways. After some time the situation was only getting worse. Even though I was confident we could make it through to Bate's or even Papgo, we just weren't comfortable continuing in this weather. Jim and Eric had the same thoughts we would later come to find out. Aaron and I attempted a few more times to raise Jim on the radio but no luck. We pulled off to the side of the road and cozied up in our front seats for a long night.
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A Brand new day
The sun broke through lingering clouds the following morning and we awoke to yet another stunning day. The rains were gone, the road was muddy but firming up, and the low spots were no longer small rivers. We started off and raced back into the unknown, having no idea where we would eventually meet back up with Eric and Jim. Eventually we came across the FJ's, sitting in a clearing at the eastern Boundary of Organ Pipe. Both occupants were in good spirits and the vehicles fared well for the most part. Jim unfortunately lost one of his bumper mounted lights during the night, luckily this would be the last misfortune of the little yellow FJ that could.
I broke out the kitchen and prepared what was left of our food for breakfast. It was a welcome relief after a very intense night of unknowns. Eric and Jim gave us a brief synopsis of the night's events, which I am hoping they will share in this thread. The best news of all though was that the mission was a success. At the bush near the cliffs they had found the missing wallet. All was now well with the world. I packed away breakfast dishes and we climbed into our vehicles to make the short trip into Ajo. Once in Ajo we gassed up, hosed the mud off of everything we could (I still have ECDD mud on my trailer), and aired up those that had aired down. We would once again split up but this time it was planned. Eric headed off towards Phoenix while the rest of us headed to Tucson. The drive home was uneventful, relaxing, and a good time to reflect. At the intersection of 83 and I-19 I said my goodbyes to Aaron and Jim over the radio. It had been one truly epic journey.

49. Morning after the storm

50. Cleaning up

51. The road home

The Rest of my pictures can be seen at the following link.
http://s10.photobucket.com/user/kiddmen57/library/El Camino Del Diablo 2-27-2014

This journey was almost a non-starter for me. With the original parties, my friends, dropping out I thought I would need to re-schedule for dates unknown. Even with new commitments I had reservations about heading out into the desert for four days with people I had never met. I can now say that I am 100% glad that the original group fell apart, for without their presence I was able to meet three wonderful people and share a truly great experience with them. I will always have the time spent on this trip in my heart and will have many trips to come with this dynamic quartet. There were valuable lessons learned and experience gained. In the end I feel that we all took something extra away from this trip that can't be put into words.
With this I must also apologize to my travel companions for taking such a long time to produce this trip report. I have no excuse and am truly sorry it took so long. I am glad to report that this group of four has already made plans to go on ECDD Part Deux later this year, with a focus on the BMGR and Copper Mountains. In addition further trips are being planned out into 2015. I cannot wait to see what adventures my new friends and I will find ourselves in and am glad to have gotten to know them over the last 5 months. Additionally, while Jim had many issues from the start, not one of us ever had the thought that it would have been a better trip without him. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Each little thing presented an opportunity to learn and expand our experiences. I am glad Jim and Mr. Spok came along for the ride.


Thanks Klayton! I can't wait for October.

It was an epic trip, except for trying to sleep in the front seat. This report brings back great memories. I also felt the same trepidation setting out on an adventure not knowing anyone. Klayton, Aaron, Jim and Mr. Spock are great companions. We had all agreed to one rule and stuck to it; no egos!

Till we hit the dusty roads again!


You captured the essence of this adventure perfectly Klayton. I'm glad you guys were there to offer comradship, repairs and security. This was one of my most memorable trips and it will be very hard to top. I'll add a little more in the way if pictures later.

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